Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Andy De Brouwer

It is time to put another sommelier in the spotlight! This time we’ll get to know more about Belgian Top sommelier Andy De Brouwer owner ( 4th generation ) of restaurant/hotel Les Eleveurs in Halle (just outside of Brussels). After years working on a Michelin star level  in 2015 Andy thought it was time for something different… basically he wanted to get rid of the ‘stiff’ way of working and the white table cloths . They traded it in to now go for Bistronomie, classical dishes with a twist .  Next to that he has published a few books and writes a wine column for the weekend edition from De Morgen newspaper … to name a few things that is 🙂

When I think of Andy the words  (next to wine) Rock ‘n roll and vintage are the first ones that pop into my head :-). He easily could be a rock star (maybe it just came when seeing the below picture?)… the vintage part is mostly because of his love for old Vespa’s

andy-de-brouwer-1

Once you start talking to Andy something you just cannot deny is his passion for wine… The way he talks about it can only come out of passion… he tells it with so much sparkle in his eyes… I love it!!!  That’s why I’ve already learned so many things from him as there’s no better person to learn from than a passionate man

andy-de-brouwer-by-editiepajot

What many of you might not know is that Andy is also part of the technical comity of the Belgian Sommelier Guild… this basically means that he is one of the people that year after year searches for new/challenging questions for the contestants of both the “senior” as the “junior” sommelier Trophy .

andy-de-brouwer

I’m sure you guys are already on the edge of you seat to find out more about Andy… so feast your eyes on his answers on my 10 questions:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Jerez is without any doubt my favorite wine regions. The region inspired me that much that I even started making my own beer using ‘Zenne y Frontera Lambiek’ old sherry barrels (still with a bit of sherry in them)

zenny-y-frontera-by-lambikstoempers

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Understand your client to guide him to the right choice by respecting the signals in terms of budget and figure out what are the main tasting lines he wants to see reflected in his glass. Advising him a few alternatives & sharing your knowledge.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Drinks can represent almost half of the income of a restaurant. Reasons enough to put this part of the business in hands of a professional.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I played all my youth in a enormous wine cellar, thousands of liquid stories captured by a cork, difficult not to be appealed too…

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

Josep Can Roca (El Celler de can Roca) who is also a Jerez lover 🙂

andy-pitou

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

It doesn’t always have to match; sometimes contrasting can be funny too.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why? 
There is no wine region more impressive than the Douro Valley, take the train for a total experience !

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste? 
Romanée Conti, was able to sell a few bottles in my life but never had the opportunity to taste a sip.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school? 
Taking care of the dining room service with some other students at the Miss Belgium competition, playing monkey tricks on the catwalk and eating caviar in the lodges of the famous. 🙂 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

Lunch at Michel Bras by clear sky in the Aubrac and enjoy the total experience.

michel-bras-restaurant

Time to put the finalists for Best sommelier of Belgium in the spotlight: Stéphane Dardenne

Last but not least we have look into the world of the 3rd finalist for the title of Best Sommelier Of Belgium 2016  Stephane Dardenne. Stephane is sommelier of the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime where I was already fortunate enough to have passed a wonderful evening!!  Unfortunately back then Stéphane was not yet working there, but if he was I’m sure my meal would have been even more mythical!!

Just like Gianluca for Stephane it is the first time in the finals of Best Sommelier of Belgium. Not that I want to discourage them, but until now not too many people or non for as far as I remember have won Best Sommelier of Belgium at their first participation… so maybe it is up to Stephane or Gianluca to write history 🙂

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Stephane is, although he has done 2 years of hotel management school in Namur, a man of the practice. He has learned by doing… so autodidact in a way. Before starting to work for the Michelin starred restaurant La table de Maxime he has gained lots of experience and knowledge at the Michelin starred restaurant Zur Post in the little town of Saint – Vith.

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Just like with all the other sommeliers here are the answers to the 10 questions I asked him:

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I always prefer saying that I give preference working with a particular wine estate rather than with a region. Every region has its artists that try every day to transcend their terroir. Estates  that take all measures needed to make a wonderful end product, that prefer focusing on quality instead of quantity, who experiment in terms of winemaking and participate in the variety of wine. A great wine is in my opinion nothing without the hand of man.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

It is a job that is very complete.  It requires both an incredible amount of knowledge but also a lot of physical and organizational skills. The sommelier is somehow an extension of the culinary art in the restaurant and is always first in line to learn about the feelings/comments of customers towards their meal. He must also show a lot of psychology while remaining discrete and humble. He must constantly put in question his own knowledge and to learn and be informed about changes, evolutions in the world of wines.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I think a bit of both. In the kind of restaurant I work at, a sommelier is sometimes overestimated by customers that forget that the pleasure and experience of a restaurant is the work of a whole team not only 1 individual.  On the other hand he is underestimated by chefs on their ‘”intellectual” and artistic approach. Only very few customers dare to trust them fully and be carried away in the ‘adventure’ that is offered to them

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

I’ve always been looking for the good and the beautiful.The wine somehow presented itself as it always should have been there…  I remember when I was a child, a friend of mine’s dad had a very beautiful cellar where I always loved to go to admire the bottles 🙂 .

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

In terms of wine, I am self-taught. I always considered things with my own sensibility. However, I appreciate the humility of Serge Dubs and approach to wine-food pairings Alain Senderens.

alain_senderens

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

This is without any doubt the most difficult question!  First I mostly take into account the preparation rather than the product as such. Only after having understood its preparation I try to associate it with wine. I try to give the least possible importance to the ideas and ‘obligations’ proposed in textbooks but rather respecting as much as possible the customer’s taste. That’s always why I take the trend of « nature » wines in consideration from the distance.  A detail I love to work  with is the visual aspect ! Its importance of the visual aspect of a wine or the label are often diminished.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

I’m of the opinion that every wine region has its  treasures, heritage and is worth visiting. One that I’m thinking of in particular is Wachau.  It is a small Austian valle somewhere along the Danube and is a UNESCO world heritage site. In this region they produce some of the best white wines in the world and the region is rich in heritage and architecture. At the summer solstice, all residents light up the hills with thousands of torches and ride on boats to party while each village takes fireworks. Magical!!

wachau-2

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?
In that case I’ll have to make lots of sacrifices:-) 🙂 At this moment I’d love to taste old vintages both red and white from Clos Rougeard.

clos-rougeard-old-bottles

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school or viticulture studies?

I only did 2 years of hotel management school in Namur … so I don’t have too many souvenirs. I did appreciate the courses on cigars that I had with a few friends, we all always used to chip in to be able to taste the « big models » on evenings at boarding school.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, winery, etc..?

The current offer is so big that it is impossible for me to remember a particular experience. This is probably what makes the richness of the wine and gastronomy. I just want to say that I’m open for new experiences, knowledge and diversity. Also always keep a cool head and avoid following “fashion” to much.

Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Benoit Couderé

The next sommelier to put in the spotlight is this year’s Best Sommelier of Belgium Benoit Couderé. Benoit has been head sommelier for many years of the 3 Michelin starred restaurant Karmeliet located in the city center of Bruges. Unfortunately after 33 years,  of which 20 with 3 Michelin stars, Chef/owner Geert Van Hecke decided it was time to close the doors and start enjoying life more.

Benoit Couderé 2

As our dear friend Benoit has a very good reputation it didn’t take too long for him to find a new challenge, he will start working as consultant for the supermarket chain Carrefour. I know it might seem a strange choice, but I’m sure Benoit will be a great added value for Carrefour to lift up their wine assortment to an even higher level in Belgium. When I met Benoit he seemed like a very silent/modest maybe even shy type, but once you start talking about wine all of that changes instantly 🙂 He starts lighting up and starts talking wine in the most fascinating and passionate way.  Just like with the other sommeliers, I asked the same 10 questions to Benoit to find out more about the life of a sommelier.

Benoit Couderé

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Difficult question: German Rieslings, Wachau, Bourgogne, Côte du Rhône, …

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Knowledge, passion, being social, good with languages, understanding/feeling the ‘food-wine’ language, having a good knowledge of purchase/stock management for his of her wine cellar.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

Yes, quite a bit! That’s also why I think restaurants should invest in a good sommelier. On a long term this will have a very positive impact for both the restaurant and the guests visiting it.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

Already since I was a little boy I was fascinated by my grandfather’s winecellar and this fascination only became bigger while doing my studies at the  ‘hotel management school at Koksijde .

Of course another thing that played a big role was visits to lots of vineyards… especially when hearing  the passionate winemakers talk and that get their enjoyment of seeing people loving their wines.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

All colleagues that share the same passion as me and want to share that passion with everybody… friends, guests, family

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

The wine must have a good balance in all its dimensions, only then you can let the wine “connect” with dishes. Obviously the finesse of the preparation must speak for itself.

Some complex wines are sometimes better to be enjoyed without food, to fully enjoy its depth, finesse and character.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

The Hemel-en aarde valley in South- Africa, in January I was fortunate enough to have visited a few vineyards in the valley that had brilliant wines and breath taking landscapes!!

Hemel en aarde valley

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

Very old madeira vintages en red Burgundy wines from Henri Jayer that I wasn’t able to taste yet…and unfortunately doesn’t get produced anymore 😦 (as owner/winemaker died)

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

In the 5th year of high school we were allowed to bring our own wines from time to time to wine class.

One time my dad gave me an old Pommard to bring to school that had evolved quite vegetal 🙂 at that time not much appreciate by my fellow students, now 13yrs later we would all know better 🙂

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant?

A Geert van Hecke classic Pithivier.  A Puff pastry pie filled with cuckoo Malinois, foie, cream of salsify and truffle. An absolute TOP dish that should be enjoyed with a  Château Rayas 2001 from Châteauneuf-du -Pape

Chateau Rayas 2001